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Archive for June, 2013

My father, like his father, was an ‘old time’ family doctor — he did it all.  When we were young — five, six, seven, dad would wake one of us in the middle of the night and ask if we wanted to go with him as he made a house/farm call.  I was six when one night about 1am he woke me and asked if I wanted to go with him.  He drove us into the country to a farm house.  I waited in the car and he went in.  He was gone for some time (he had gone to help deliver a baby, as it turned out).  It was day-break when he emerged.  The farmer/husband/father was following my father and he was carrying a bushel basked full of green beans.  The beans were placed in the trunk of the car.  After my father shook the farmer’s hand and said a few words to him, he opened the car door, entered and settled in.  I asked him what the beans were for.  He turned to me and said that they were his payment.  I then said, “You’re a doctor, don’t you get paid lots of money?”  My father was a man of few words, literally.  He turned to me and looked at me with the ‘father look’ that announced that I was going to receive a ‘lesson.’  He looked deeply into my eyes and said, “In this life you don’t serve others for money!”  He turned away and turned the key; the engine started and we drove home.  This was one of the many ‘servant’ gifts that my father gave me during his life-time.  And the longer I live the more deeply I appreciate this one gift in particular.

Happy father’s day, gentle reader — if you are a father, I celebrate you.  If you are not, then I celebrate your father.

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It would probably be helpful if we had a clear and concise definition of evil available to us.  But where are we to find such a definition?  Where do we look, who do we source?  Well, not the dictionary.  A dictionary seeks only to provide common usages.  How about the Bible?  There are close to 600 references to ‘evil’ in the Bible.  Seldom is the word explained and there are many different denotations and connotations, so that attempting to emerge a clear and concise definition seems an impossible task.  In addition, theology, philosophy and social psychology are more diffuse than clear when it comes to defining ‘evil.’  However, I am not without hope.  Leonard Doob offers us two criteria for establishing the existence or nonexistence of evil.  Doob writes: ‘One [criteria] is psychological, the other social or moral: psychological, a condition in which one or more persons experience pain, unhappiness, frustration, or other negative aversive feelings; social-moral, a condition in which aversive feelings or the actions of one or more persons are considered undesirable by others’ [in our case by the Judges and/or the Victims].   Included in this criterion is a condition in which the feelings or actions of one or more persons are judged to threaten either the security or existence of the society or one or more of its core values.

Given Doob’s observations, a definition of evil emerges; it is a state of affairs in which BOTH of his criteria are met.  Now consider that when, for example, a universal evil is identified as pain (you name the pain, gentle reader) such an idea seems sensible.  However, the psychological criterion of pain is not sufficient.  Why?  Well, for example, we do not call the pain we experience while in the hands of the dentist ‘evil’ [well, most of us don’t anyway] — the social-moral aspect is not met.  On the other hand, millions suffered pain and death when the Nazis intentionally murdered millions or when the Turks massacred Armenians during World War I or when we bombed Dresden and Hiroshima during World War II.  In these instances non-Nazi, non-Turkish, non-American Judges would call (and they have) such mass killings evil on the basis of social-moral criterion [consider that to this day Nazis, many Turks and many Americans do not consider what they did as ‘evil’].

Regarding the Nazis it is easy to demonstrate that pathological perverts may perpetrate evil, but it is much more important to say again and again that the representatives of the German people — a people capable of the greatest achievements in every field we honor — from art to science — were able to countenance perhaps the worst or nearly the worst evils imaginable and to use some of our greatest technological achievements to produce that evil.  The deeds of the Nazis reveal the depths of evil that even the most civilized, cultivated peoples tolerated, ignored, or encouraged.

No nation or group, no one of us is guiltless, yet the generation of Germans in the period from 1930-1945, in my opinion, reached the depths of conceivable evils.  This is one reason they are my favorite example of evil perpetrated on a large scale.  I am not wishing that present day Germans be persecuted for what their elders perpetrated or supported.  On the other hand, the Nazis remind me of the evil we humans are capable of perpetrating; they also help me for they serve as a warning to the great evil that all good people are capable of perpetrating or supporting.

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Gentle reader, if you have been following my blog these past 18 months you might have noticed that I am intrigued by what we call ‘Evil.’  In my quest to seek to understand ‘evil’ I periodically stop and take some time to think about it.  These past few months I have been setting aside some time each week to ponder, reflect upon/about, noodle, and consider ‘evil.’  So what follows is some of what has emerged for me during this time.

Whether we explore the past, become aware of the present, or gaze into the future — evil roams about.  I am not a historian, but it does seem to me that it is nearly impossible to delve into any society’s collection of proverbs and not find reference to evil, its causes and its cures.  As human beings, it appears as if we have always, still are and will be intrigued by the riddle of evil.  Many faith traditions, for example, have striven to embrace the paradox of a loving God who permits evil to roam about.  Throughout history many folks have uttered the same words that Jesus uttered: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  On the other hand, we humans are imperfect and it seems our imperfection opens the pathway to evil.  In spite of what appears to be universal agreements as to what is evil, we humans still choose to inflict evil upon one another.  For example, it appears that most of us humans consider torture to be evil and yet we continue to torture [there are many forms of torture that we employ — physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual].  Most of us, myself included, are repulsed by the thought that we — each of us — do torture others (and at times we even torture ourselves).

Evil is a central and baffling theme of theology and philosophy; it can also be a central theme for many of the other disciplines that directly address we human beings.  For example, my father was a physician and he was committed to combating the ‘physical evils’ that affect us — disease and death.  If we are awake and aware even for a brief time we become aware of the evil that roams about in our world; we might also conclude that within each of us ‘evil resides’ waiting to be called forth onto the stage that is our life.  We are, as Greenleaf noted, at our healthiest living paradoxes of good and evil.

My current thinking is that what we call evil does not exist in nature, say the way lakes and meadows, valleys and mountains exist or in the way human hair grows (or in my case seldom grows) on one’s head.  Consider that NOTHING IS EVIL — not a tornado, a tsunami, a bomb, or even mass murder UNTIL one names it as evil.  Evil would not exist if man did not exist to name it.  What this means to me, is that we are, first of all, dealing with human judgments — we judge something or someone or some event or some situation, etc to be evil the same way we judge an object to be hot or cold or a person to be thin or thick or a political party to be conservative or progressive.  Secondly, we are dealing with ways to help human beings become and remain ‘healthy’ — physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and socially.

Given this, the cast of characters in the play we call ‘Evil in Life’ is limited to three: Any of us, as individuals, can — and do — play these three roles [we can even play all three roles at the same time].  One role is that of Judge.  Judges are people who possess values and who express value judgments concerning evil.  A second role is that of Evildoer.  The evildoer is the person who commits the evil as judged by him/her self and/or by another.  The third role is that of Victim.  The victim is the person who experiences the effects of what is judged to be evil.  Now there is another element that comes into play and that is Situations.  Situations are circumstances that are frequently judged to be evil because they produce or help produce Evildoers or Victims or both (it seems to me that ‘situations’ also produce or help produce ‘judges;’ but these situations are probably not deemed to be ‘evil.’).

I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine this morning, Jim.  Jim is training his new puppy, ‘Miss Ruby’ and so as I was thinking about evil this morning I wondered if animals should be excluded from a discussion of evil.  From one perspective, there is no good reason to do so — they might be considered to be ‘evildoers;’ dog bites Jim or they might be considered ‘victims’ as in woman beats dog.  In fact, animals in Ancient Greece had to stand trial when they caused a person’s death.  Theologians and Philosophers have stifled this idea because they say that animals don’t have ‘free will’ so they cannot ‘choose to do evil.’  So, perhaps I should continue by focusing on us human beings as Judges, Evildoers and Victims.  I conclude today with these words from the Buddha: ‘It is man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.’

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Consider that when the leader ACTS with ‘warrior-like’ energy and is decisive that she is acting from the masculine aspect of the leader — that is, from Yang.

Consider that when the leader ACTS with ‘healing-like’ energy and is nourishing self and others that he is acting from the feminine aspect of the leader — that is, from Yin.

I liken it to a dance of Doing and Being, with perhaps more of the Being than the Doing movements.

Then, consider that there is a third aspect, the Dao.  The leader also knows that it is crucial that one takes the time to withdraw — to step aside, to pause, to stop — in order to renew and reenergize.  Appropriate withdrawal is crucial to the health of the leader, directly and indirectly to the well-being of those led.

Yin-Yang, Dao — Being-Doing, Withdrawal.  These three work in harmony and help keep the leader in balance.  When the leader is balanced then the balance of the led is more likely to occur.  When the leader overly focuses on just one of these to the detriment of the other two then it is more likely that the led will also become off-balance.

The leader who knows when to be fully present as a listener, and when to be fully present as a doer and when to withdraw in order to replenish will offer the led a powerful role-model; one that they can embrace and one that can help them achieve a balance of their own.

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One finds in all religious, spiritual and mystical traditions the idea that one must lose oneself in order to find oneself.  How does one lose oneself?  My experience is that I always seem to fail when I TRY to lose something.  Yup.  The harder I try the harder it gets; stuff just won’t get lost.  On the other hand, I frequently lose things when I am not trying to lose them.  I lose things when I am not aware.  Then there is the similar idea of dying to oneself.  How does one die to oneself?  Well, I’m not talking about death — suicide if you will.  The mystics don’t tell me to kill myself; they tell me to die.  For the mystics causing pain to myself, causing suffering to myself would be self-defeating and self-violent.  It would also be counterproductive.  A spiritual guide once told me that I would never fulfill myself when I am in pain.  I have never been more focused on myself than when I was depressed.  On the other hand, when I am ‘happy’ (content, at peace, in balance, living in the now, etc) I am not aware of myself.

Think about it.  We are quite conscious of ourselves when we have a toothache and when we don’t have a toothache we are, for the most part, not even aware that we have teeth.  The same holds for headaches.  When we have a headache we are really, truly, very much aware of our heads.  When we don’t have a headache we seldom think about our head.

So?  Consider, gentle reader, that it is quite false, quite erroneous, to think that the way to deny self is to cause pain to self, to go in for mortification.  The mystics tell us that to deny self, to die to self, is to understand our nature, to be aware of our ‘true’ self.  When we are able to do this then we will disappear — like the healthy tooth or non-headache, we won’t be aware of the self.

The great mystic Catherine of Siena told us that in one of her conversations with God, she was told by God ‘I am He who is; you are she who is not.’  The Eastern mystics liken this to the dancer and the dance.  God is the dancer and God’s creation is the dance.  It isn’t as if God is the big Dancer and we are the little dancers; we are, in this analogy, not the dancer at all.  We are ‘being danced.’  To tell you the truth, gentle reader, I don’t really understand this completely, but at times I do have a sense of it.

I once had another spiritual guide say to me that to lose self is to suddenly realize that you are something other than what you thought you were.  I used to think I was my depression; now I know that I am feeling depressed; I am not my depression.  Most healthy four-year olds believe they are the center and then they learn (hopefully) that they are not the center, they are more like a satellite.  I have to caution myself.  These are simply analogies; they are images.  They are not to be taken literally.  They give me a clue, a hint, a glimpse — they help point me in a certain direction.

Those mystics.  They certainly give me a lot to contemplate.  I suppose if this were really easy stuff then we would all be doing it — losing self and dying to self, that is.  But I-You-We are more likely to think we are our depression or our fear or our pride or even our humility.  We want to be the one dancing, not the one danced.  I know that I can easily, at times, forgot who the creator of the dance really is and that I am the dance that was created.

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